Jun 19th 2013

Bradsher the Intrepid:  ‘My times were good’

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Journalists who left their native countries to report on the outside world find few things more distressing than the death throes of their profession. As today’s newspapers shrink, fold and “go digital”, television turns to entertainers and opinionators. The information gap widens by the day.

The public, of course, is the loser in this hollowing out of the information business. 

The life of the “foreign correspondent”, that dream we had as youngsters, is becoming almost a relic of the distant past, like a B-movie with some actor pretending to be one of us.

As Henry S. Bradsher says with typical understatement in his new book The Dalai Lama’s Secret and Other Reporting Adventures (Louisiana State University Press), “Times have changed. My times were good.”

Bradsher, the epitome of the intrepid correspondent, has nailed it in two sentences. Those times were good for everyone. 

He decided to become a foreign correspondent at age 12 or 13 and he never looked back. I was a late bloomer. I decided at 18. We met and worked together in Moscow in the 1960s, and we reveled in our important role of reporting and analysis of Cold War issues and their social context. He was my bureau chief for a year or two until he left to study at Harvard in the Nieman Fellowship program.

A Swiss colleague who knew him in New Delhi recalls trying to surprise him with a nugget of news that might interest The Associated Press.  “I filed that three hours ago,” he enjoyed saying. Bradsher was always one step ahead of the competition. 

Yes, times were good for the foreign correspondent and for the newspaper reader.

Bradsher’s new book is a collection of 26 self-standing vignettes describing some of the highlights of his long career, mainly in The AP and at the now-defunct Washington Star. He has created a unique format in the shape of non-fiction short stories that makes the book easy to read. 

Chapter titles such as these will draw you in. “Stumbling Over a Policeman’s Severed Head”,  “Tiger Hunting with Queen Elizabeth”,  “Stabbed in the Back”,  “Bombed in Moscow”, and “China’s Most Despicable”. He says he wrote these pieces over several years, deciding only recently to compile them in book form.

I found his memoir enlightening for the fact-packed accounts of major events in the 1960s and 1970s. It is also a tribute to a cohort of brave and adventurous individuals who placed themselves in personal danger – and continue to do so -- to get a story. He cites the Committee to Protect Journalists as the authority for tracking reporters’ deaths in action. As his book was printed, 926 journalists had died since 1992. The updated figure is 975 and climbing. 

Bradsher in his low-key prose lets slip that he was pushed around shot at, but he was lucky. He escaped Cambodia and Vietnam without a scratch.

We forget how dangerous it was. Bradsher remembers. “Learning the hard way, journalists had developed some criteria for judging road dangers (in Cambodia). People working in the fields and looking relaxed in villages were good signs, as was oncoming traffic. But empty fields, tense or empty villages, and no approaching vehicles indicated danger …” From 1970 to 1975, 34 foreign journalists were killed or disappeared and were presumed dead. “Most were lost on Cambodia’s dangerous highways,” he writes. 

On one of those roads, Bradsher’s friend and colleague Welles Hangen and his NBC camera crew were seized by Khmer Rouge and led away. Bradsher recalls: “Villagers later said Hangen and his crew were beaten to death three days after their capture.”

There is not much scope for humor in Bradsher’s telling. He always was a serious and intense writer-reporter. But he tells one story of traveling in Vietnam with Secretary of State William P. Rogers and assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Collins.  Just a year earlier, Collins had been the astronaut who piloted Apollo 11 around the moon while his crew descended to the surface. Bradsher interrogated some farmers who had gathered and asked, through a translator, what they thought of Collins and his moon travel. Paraphrasing, Bradsher quotes a farmer, “About that man having been to the moon, well, we may just be ignorant farmers but we’re smart enough not to be fooled by that!” 

The title story of the book relates to Bradsher’s  reporting the secret treasure spirited out of Tibet by the Dalai Lama’s entourage while Bradsher was based in New Delhi for The AP. It was a sensitive secret and Bradsher’s story was greeted with skepticism. In the end, it was proven correct.

Later in his career, he was based in Hong Kong for the Star and earned a reputation for astute China-watching. With careful reading of documents from Beijing, Bradsher wrote early on about the fall of Lin Biao. He later reported Zhou en-Lai’s fading from the scene. The “China-watcher watchers” in Beijing at this point denounced as a “most despicable” correspondent. It was a label he wore with pride as he turned out to be right about the power struggles. 

He resists boasting that his elder son has become an award-winning correspondent for the New York Times, also based in Hong Kong. Journalism is clearly in the genes.

The most moving chapter, for this reader, is “Hazards of Journalism”, which includes revisiting incidents many years later to see what happened to translators, editors and reporters he had known in difficult times. These were “men who suffered for being faithful reporters of things that powerful or unscrupulous men did not want reported”. One Afghan ended up driving a taxi in Washington, D.C. A Czech editor was banished to managing the heating system of an apartment complex. Others disappeared or were imprisoned. 

When the Star finally went under in 1981, he considered offers to return to Asia but found that he and his family were ready to settle down in Washington. He was taken on by a branch of the CIA and again undertook “extensive travel on six continents”. His final touch: “My journalism career had ended. It had been a fascinating and enjoyable career.




Facts & Arts is a platform for owners of high quality content to distribute their content to a worldwide audience.

Facts & Arts' objective is to enhance the distribution of individual owners' content by combining various types of high quality content that can be assumed to interest the same audience. The thinking is that in this manner the individual pieces of content on Facts & Arts support the distribution of one another.

If you have fitting written material, classical music or videos; or if you would like to become one of our regular columnists, a book reviewer or music reviewer; or if you wish to market or broadcast a live event through Facts & Arts, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.



  

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Dec 10th 2018
The current exhibition of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – the first of its kind to be mounted in North America – is indeed an extraordinary revelation. Delacroix was one of the great creative minds of the nineteenth century: an artist who embodied the spirit of Romanticism, a dramatist and virtuoso of coloration who never ceased to experiment, to take inspiration from the old masters – from Veronese and Rubens, Rembrandt and Caravaggio – whose works he would often copy at the Louvre, “that book from which we learn to read,” as Cézanne put it.
Dec 6th 2018
Your body has two metabolically different states: fasted (without food) and post-fed. The absorptive post-fed state is a metabolically active time for your body. But is also a time of immune system activity. When we eat, we do not just take in nutrients – we also trigger our immune system to produce a transient inflammatory response. Inflammation is a normal response of the body to infection and injury, which provides protection against stressors. This means that just the act of eating each meal imparts a degree of physiological stress on the immune system. And so for people snacking around the clock, their bodies can often end up in a near constant inflammatory state.
Dec 5th 2018
Researchers have developed a test that could be used to diagnose all cancers. It is based on a unique DNA signature that appears to be common across cancer types. The test has yet to be conducted on humans, and clinical trials are needed before we know for sure if it can be used in the clinic.
Dec 4th 2018
The late great Russian-born novelist Vladimir Nabokov (pictured below by Michael Johnson) amassed a range of critical comments during his 78 years, more than enough to qualify him as a literary giant and keep his books in print. But most of the assessments have an edge – he was irascible, independent-minded, contradictory, arbitrary, arrogant, tongue-tied, obscene. For such a tumultuous life, he died in opposite conditions: quietly in Montreux, Switzerland, having spent his last 16 years with few friends and almost no family around him. Making sense of this unique talent has been a hobby of mine since the 1960s, enjoying his quirky prose style, his trilingual puns and his forays into forbidden territory, particularly with Bend Sinister, Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire and Ada. Have I ever made sense of him?
Nov 26th 2018
There is now good evidence that the risks versus benefits of alcohol are strongly influenced by the type of alcohol and the way it is drunk.
Nov 14th 2018
Jean Gabin - pictured below by the author of this book review Michael Johnson - lives on vibrantly through international film festivals, art houses and television reruns although he died in Paris 42 years ago. Just last week in prime time I watched one of his classic films, “Pépé le Moko”, a story of considerable depth that pops up regularly on television. American author Joseph Harriss rightly calls it “Casablanca for grownups”. Other classics abound – “La Grande Illusion”, “Le Quai des Brumes” “Touchez pas au grisbi”, for example. 
Nov 13th 2018
Over the last ten years, research has demonstrated the importance of creative practice in the arts and humanities. They can help maintain health, provide ways of breaking down social barriers and expressing and understanding experiences and emotions, and assist in developing trust, identities, shared understanding and more compassionate communities. So, hopefully, this sidelining of the arts in health terms is changing.
Nov 13th 2018
I am here to sing Will Kemp’s [in the picture below] praises and review this new e-book because I have been studying with Will since January 2016, long distance but close in heart—Will lives in Britain and I live in the States.
Nov 13th 2018

This address is in part about the musician who has studied as a concert pianist, but does not pursue the narrow and precise field for which he has been trained, yet does not quit; but does not often play solo recitals nor concerts, nor chamber music, nor strict lieder activities

Nov 2nd 2018
Writing is such hard work that those of us who dabble in prose often dread looking at the “white bull” – Hemingway’s term for a blank sheet of paper waiting to be filled up with our words. Will we defeat the bull today? It’s always a tossup. The stress and strain of writing perhaps explains why so many writers seek an outlet in the visual arts, particularly painting and sculpture. Visual output satisfies the hunger to create, and, as a bonus, the art form is more free and spontaneous. Great writers have produced great paintings. Look at Victor Hugo, Guillaume Apollinaire, Rudyard Kipling, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Even more interesting to me is the somewhat lesser phenomenon of pianists who paint. They are seeking the same release, the same soulagement, the same need to liberate themselves. 
Nov 1st 2018
Modern life does have many benefits, but when it persuades us to use transport, sit in a chair at work, or watch TV for extended periods, we increasingly have to turn to medicine for solutions because these habits are killing hundreds of millions of us each year. With 70% of people in the US on prescription drugs (50% in the UK), it seems that as lifespan inches upwards, disease is skyrocketing. The irony is that many advances in modern medicine are firefighting those very problems that modern life itself has created.
Oct 30th 2018
It’s important to note that all studies, including our own, only show an association between the herpes virus and Alzheimer’s – they don’t prove that the virus is an actual cause. Probably the only way to prove that a microbe is a cause of a disease is to show that an occurrence of the disease is greatly reduced either by targeting the microbe with a specific anti-microbial agent or by specific vaccination against the microbe. Excitingly, successful prevention of Alzheimer’s disease by use of specific anti-herpes agents has now been demonstrated in a large-scale population study in Taiwan. Hopefully, information in other countries, if available, will yield similar results.
Oct 18th 2018
Leaving a major political body is nothing new for mainland Britain. In 409AD, more than 350 years after the Roman conquest of 43AD, the island slipped from the control of the Roman Empire. Much like the present Brexit, the process of this secession and its practical impacts on Britain’s population in the early years of the 5th century remain ill-defined. As with the UK and Brussels, Britain had always been a mixed blessing for Rome. In around 415AD, St Jerome called the island “fertile in tyrants” (meaning usurpers) and late Roman writers portrayed a succession of rebellions in Britain, usually instigated by the army – many of whom would have been born in the province.
Oct 16th 2018
One of the oldest Greek myths, the story of Pandora was first recorded more than 2,500 years ago, in the time of Homer. In the original telling, Pandora was not some innocent girl who succumbed to the temptation to open a forbidden jar......Pandora was deliberately devised to punish humankind for accepting the gift of fire from Prometheus. Essentially a seductive AI fembot, she had no parents, childhood memories, or emotions of any kind, nor would she ever age or die. She was programmed to carry out one malevolent mission: to insinuate herself in an earthly setting and then unseal the jar......With AI/machine learning quickly evolving into a “black box” technology, the symbol of Pandora’s sealed jar has taken on new meaning.
Oct 11th 2018
The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh is currently exhibiting a substantial selection of Rembrandt’s paintings, drawings, and prints – focusing on those works that reveal the story of “Britain’s Discovery of the Master.” Exploring the significance of Rembrandt to British collectors, artists, and writers provides us with the occasion to revisit some fifteen major oil paintings.....
Oct 10th 2018
On the fiftieth anniversary of Nicolas Garcia Uriburu’s first coloration, Buenos Aires’ National Museum of Fine Arts pays tribute to the landmark early accomplishment of its native son..........Uriburu’s role as an early environmentalist has never been appreciated outside of his native country. It is sad that this neglect was not remedied in his lifetime, but at least it should be done now; a full-scale retrospective of his pioneering work should be presented in the art world’s capitals, to inspire young artists.
Oct 2nd 2018
The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to two immunologists for their revolutionary approaches to treat cancer. James Allison, based in the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and Tasuku Honjo, based at Kyoto University in Japan, led exciting and groundbreaking work on developing new types of immunotherapy that help our immune system fight cancer.
Sep 20th 2018
We all want other people to “get us” and appreciate us for who we really are. In striving to achieve such relationships, we typically assume that there is a “real me”. But how do we actually know who we are? It may seem simple – we are a product of our life experiences, which we can be easily accessed through our memories of the past. Indeed, substantial research has shown that memories shape a person’s identity......................But it turns out that identity is often not a truthful representation of who we are anyway – even if we have an intact memory. Research shows that we don’t actually access and use all available memories when creating personal narratives. It is becoming increasingly clear that, at any given moment, we unawarely tend to choose and pick what to remember.
Sep 20th 2018
The research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, compared how much mothers reported using cleaning products with the rate of obesity in 757 children at the age of three. Faecal samples were taken from the infants at three to four-months-old and the researchers investigated associations between microbial changes and being overweight at age three. The researchers found a link between heavy use of cleaning products, microbial changes and children with a higher body mass index (BMI). However, higher disinfectant usage was also reported among households with infants who received antibiotics around the time of birth; who were exposed to cigarette smoke; or were delivered by caesarean section. The results may therefore reflect several interlinking factors. Obesity was less likely to occur in breastfed children, but breastfeeding was also linked to lower disinfectant usage, which makes it difficult to tease apart these two factors.
Sep 11th 2018
If there’s a story that unites success in Silicon Valley and the new economy that’s given us iPhones and Uber, it’s that geek innovators are rewarded. Engineer the killer app and the cash will roll in. Big brains mean a big pay day. It may be a new economy, but this is a very old mistake. The idea that those at the top of a business are the ones who should be celebrated makes little sense to anyone who actually works in an organisation like Tesla. They might be the ones who make the headlines, but it’s the ordinary employees who do the work and produce the value.